Saturday, February 4, 2017

Valentine's Day Originated--When?


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Valentine’s Day.💘 Time for romance, for flowers, candy, cards. Seems like that traditional day for love has been around forever, but when, exactly, did that tradition start?
I wish I could give you a summarized, sanitized, glamorized answer, but...I can't.

St. Valentine of Terni
Tradition says the day was named for Valentine, an early Christian saint. Trouble is, the church has records of three martyred priests named Valentine—unless, of course, the same Valentine was involved in more than one of the stories. That could be possible, but no such connection has been officially made. So let me just share with you some of the tales.

All three men lived during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II in the third century. One priest named Valentine was martyred in Africa. He’s not so much connected with our tale. That leaves Valentine, a priest in Rome, and Valentine, Bishop of Terni.

One tradition features a priest named Valentine, who reportedly helped Christians escape Roman persecution. Another story says a priest named Valentine secretly married Roman couples to escape Claudius’s edict banning marriage for soldiers. Military men were more efficient without worries about wives and children, the emperor thought. But….one historian says this edict never existed.

One of these two Valentines, while imprisoned, is said to have 1.) cured his jailer’s daughter of blindness and/or 2.) fallen in love with her. Whatever the reason, he is said to have written her a letter on the eve on his execution, signing it “your valentine.”

Both Valentines are said to have been martyred on Feb. 14 (different years). Since the church usually celebrated a saint’s birth or death, that date of martyredom became common. Thus, the name, St. Valentine’s Day.

But what about the romantic nature of the holiday we're so familiar with? And is the date of the priests’ deaths the only reason to settle it in mid-February?

Some reports link activities of what we know as Valentine’s Day to a Roman festival of Lupercalia—held Feb. 13-15. At that time, pagan priests would soak skins in the blood of a sacrificed goat (symbol of fertility) and with it slap women (and fields) to encourage fertility. Then men would draw women’s names from a bowl for their mate during the following year.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome, drawing ca 1578-1610
Perhaps an early pope linked the Christian observance to this pagan one, encouraging the adoption of Christian belief. Some sources say so. Ironically, other sources are vehement that it Wasn’t So. (It does make a good story, though.)

This all happened in the third and fourth centuries, the early days of the Church. How, then, did Valentine’s Day evolve in the later Medieval world of the British Isles? Oddly, it may have been linked to early spring mating of birds, a belief popular in many rural areas.

Jack B. Oruch says the pairing of romantic love and Valentine’s Day was first recorded in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules (1382). The poem celebrated Richard II and Anne of Bohemia’s engagement contract in 1381. (They were married at age 15.)

“It says: For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

Trans:"For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his


Feb. 14 seems early, but as Oruch says, "On the Julian calendar in use in Chaucer's time, 14 February would have fallen on the date now called 23 February, a time when some birds have started mating and nesting in England.(Wikipedia)

The first actual recorded ‘Valentine’ (that has been found, at least) is attributed to Charles, Duke of Orleans, who wrote it to his wife about 1416 while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Here is the first couple of verses:

French (Original)
Je suis déjà d’amour tanné,      Ma très douce Valentinée, Car pour moi fûtes trop tardnée,             Et moi pour vous fus trop tôt né.                              
Dieu lui pardonne qui estrené                            
M’a de vous, pour toute l’année                              
Je suis déjà, etc.              
 Ma très douce, etc.          Bien m’étais suspeçonné, Qu’aurais telle destinée,     Ainsi que passât ceste journée,       
Combien qu’Amours l’eût ordonné.                            
Je suis déjà, etc.
I am already sick of love,        My very gentle Valentine, Since for me you were born toosoon,                                     And I for you was born too late.                                       God forgives he who has estranged                                Me from you for the whole year.
I am already,  etc.                 My very gentle, etc.             Well might I have suspected, Having such a destiny, cousin 
Thus would have happened    thisday,                                      How much that Love would have commanded.
I am already, etc           (“French Poems”)
Perhaps the first ‘found’ written Valentine sentiment was in French, but English wasn’t far behind—and from a lady, too. In the 15th Century (the earliest discovered so far) came Margaret Brewes’ letters to her future husband, John Paston, “my right well-beloved valentine.”

They are part of the Paston Letters collection. A link to the entire letter is below.Well, there you have it.

We can’t really be sure exactly for which Valentine the day was named, or even how the romantic element of it persisted and grew over a thousand years, from the time of the Sts. Valentine martyrdoms, to Chaucer’s mention of the day in a romantic context in 1382, to the 15th Centruy and Duc d’Orleans’ Valentine to his wife and an English lady lady to her betrothed.

Cupid, God of Love, from a 14 C. text of Roman de la Rose

Perhaps it just goes to show the enduring need to celebrate the feeling that binds us romantically to another.

But you know, the idea of romantic love goes even further back—to Greek mythology—to that arrow-wielding god Cupid and his mortal lady, Psyche, and a love that transcended time. But that’s another story.

Happy Valentine’s Day. And may we continue to celebrate this timeless tradition of love in our writings.
Sources:          for full text of the Brewes’ letter.                                                 (Good sourcing).


  1. Interesting stuff! Thanks for this enjoyable history lesson.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Sorchia! I found the research fascinating.

  2. What a great post! I only heard about the Valentine secretely marrying couples and about the birds mating, all the rest was new to me. Thanks for sharing.

    1. So many different tales abound around this holiday. And that's not even touching on the myth of Cupid!

  3. Replies
    1. So do I Elizabeth. I had an English professor as an undergraduate who loved to read Chaucer in the original--trouble was, the class was at 8 a.m.!

  4. Just hopping over from my blog to say hi! Love the tidbit of history. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey Karen! Glad you stopped by. BTW, I enjoyed your blog, even tho I was too late to leave a comment :)

  5. Great history. I know it was the practice of the early Christian church to usurp Pagan holidays and make them their own, so there is some credibility there.

    1. Hi Chuck! Yes, the early church's practice was an interesting one--but handy and usually effective. Thanks for being here!

  6. Really cool to read about Valentine's Day history.

    1. Thanks, Catherine! It was fascinating to research!

  7. Hi, trying to visit as many fellow bloggers on this hop as I can! Fascinating post, I love the legends associated with Valentine's Day - the Welsh equivalent is St Dwynwen, held on 25th January!

    1. Didn't know about the Welsh equivalent, Hywela. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Lovely post. I particularly enjoyed the French poem. :)

    1. Thanks Barbara :) It's certainly interesting. And that story has a kind of happy ending-the Duc was eventually freed and returned home.

  9. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing :)